Waggy tails and puppies just go together, don’t they? Everyone loves to see their dog wag away happily, but why do dogs wag their tails? A wagging tail is a dog expressing their feelings through their body language. Waggy tail always means a happy dog, right? Well, actually that’s not always the case. The truth is a waggy tail can convey various emotions, such as happiness, conflict, fear, and even aggression. We just most commonly associate wagging with joy. 

In this article, we’re giving you the lowdown on the wags, no not them glam footballers wives but your dog’s tail wags, why exactly do dogs wag their tails?  We’ll teach you how to understand what kind of tail wagging your dog is doing, what it might mean, and what to do if you think your dog is wagging their tail too much! Honestly, it’s so good we’ll even get your tail wagging.

If you want to learn more about your puppy’s behaviour and receive a dedicated puppy training programme, look no further than the Zigzag puppy app. We cover your puppy’s training through each development period and support you with our team of puppy trainers.

dog smiling on walk
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Why do dogs wag their tails?

Tail wagging is one of many body language signals dogs use to communicate to others that they are emotionally aroused and feeling something. You can look at their tail wags, the height and stiffness of the tail, and the rest of their body to figure out what they are saying.

Let’s look into reasons why dogs wag their tails

Dogs wag their tails because they’re happy

This is the usual answer to why do dogs wag their tails, and yes, tail wagging can indicate happiness. Think about the situation your dog is in. Perhaps you’re just getting home from work, and your dog is very happy to see you! This kind of tail wagging is usually fast-moving and might be accompanied by your dog licking your hands.To make sure your dog is doing the happy kind of tail wagging, look to see whether their face is soft and body is loose.

Dogs wag their tails because they’re unsure of something

Dogs will wag their tail in a certain way to signal they’re curious or not sure of a situation, it can be a quick double wag-wag, then a slow wag kind of wagging.

A dog can wag their tail in aggression

Now this reason why dogs wag their tails might come as a surprise to you, but if you’ve ever seen a dog fight, you’ll often see dogs wagging their tails. This can be prior to biting or even during the fight itself. This can also happen when aggression is directed at humans.

If a dog is wagging their tail in a certain way, and this is accompanied by other aggressive body language signals that mean ‘keep away’ like a forward body stance, growling or barking intensely, don’t assume they’re being friendly. They’re probably not!

dachshund sat outside
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How to understand what tail wagging means in dogs

Tail wagging in dogs is often misunderstood. To understand what your dog is saying when they wag their tails, we need to look at height, speed, direction and how they wag their tails, as this indicates certain things about how they’re feeling. 

Tail wagging is a language of its own. If we misinterpret a dog wagging their tail as always being in a happy state of mind, then we can get ourselves and our dogs in trouble. 

Here’s a key to types of tail wagging and what it means.

High tail wagging

This type of tail wagging indicates some kind of arousal, what we might think of as excitement. When it’s wagging to the right, it typically means they’re happy or experiencing positive emotions, especially when accompanied with a whole bottom or body wiggle!

If your dog is high tail wagging to the left, it can indicate curiosity, such as a new person or a new experience, it can also show that the dog is in a negative emotional state, possibly feeling stress or anxiety. High tail wagging with a narrow but quick wag and a stiff or rigid body can signal that a dog is uncomfortable and can be a precursor to aggression.

Low tail wagging

Low Tail wagging to the left can be a dog showing they’re feeling unsure about another dog or a person.

Low Tail wagging to the right can be a dog showing they’re feeling positive about a situation, other dog or person. 

So, to understand why dogs wag their tails, check how your dog is wagging their tail, and what the rest of its body language is saying.

border collie walking in the woods
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

When is tail wagging too much?

Can a dog wag their tail too much? Well, not exactly, though if you have a puppy who is always getting excited, it can take some time to calm them down! Some dogs can also cause themselves injury from over-enthusiastic tail wagging.

Splitting their tail from wagging it against objects

If your dog wags their tail and hits an object like a wall, it can cause them to split, and tail injuries can be difficult to heal as they never stop wagging them! Tails are also an area of the body with a high blood flow, so they tend to bleed a lot if they are split, but they don’t hurt a great deal when split, so dogs tend to wag through the pain. 

Once the tail is split, they also tend to nibble and lick at the sore, which results in more inflammation and pain. 

If your dog is wagging their tail due to anxiety

If you have a dog who is worried and wags their tail a lot, indicating they’re stressed or anxious, then look at ways you can help them relax and feel less conflicted about the world.

Try and pick up on situations or environments where your dog is struggling, and look to change their behaviour and how they’re feeling using positive reinforcement training.

If the wagging tail is associated with jumping up

If you have a dog who wags their tail a lot, and is over the top with guests, then look at teaching them not to jump up, or settle when people come by.

If your dog is wagging their tail and displaying aggressive body language

If you feel that your dog is displaying signs of aggression, then that is reason to be concerned. You should seek out the help of a qualified dog behaviourist. 

We hope that’s covered your questions about why dogs wag their tails. Dogs’ tails serve as a means of emotional expression, but tail wagging shouldn’t be considered in isolation. What your dog does with the rest of their body should always be looked at when trying to figure out why they’re wagging their tail, as they may be giving you other signals which indicate that they’re feeling worried or stressed.

While you’re here, you might want to read some of our other articles like our tips for new puppy owners, or how to stop a puppy from biting your feet.For more information on decoding your puppy’s body language and a full puppy training programme, download the Zigzag puppy app and get started today. We also have a team of puppy training coaches on hand 7 days a week, to help you with any questions. They’d love to hear how you’re doing with your puppy and will be glad to support you.